Relief of Akhenaten as a sphinx

Egyptian
New Kingdom, Dynasty 18, reign of Akhenaten
1349–1336 B.C.


Dimensions

Height x width x depth: 51 x 105.5 x 5.2 cm (20 1/16 x 41 9/16 x 2 1/16 in.)

Accession Number

64.1944

Medium or Technique

Limestone

On View

Egyptian New Kingdom Gallery (Gallery 210)

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Relief

Although Akhenaten’s religious reforms purged Egyptian art of many of its most familiar manifestations, the king remained fond of the sphinx and often had himself depicted as that fantastic creature - part man, part lion. In Old Kingdom times, the Great Sphinx at Giza probably stood for the king presenting offerings to the sun god, while in the Eighteenth Dynasty the mighty monument was reinterpreted as the sun god Horemakhet, or Horus in the Horizon. Its impeccable solar credentials therefore made the sphinx an appropriate image for Akhenaten at el-Amarna, the city he called Akhetaten, “Horizon of the Sun Disk.”

This relief was one of a pair flanking a temple doorway. The sphinx on it rests on a plinth, suggesting that it represents a statue. A pair of such reliefs flanking the doorway of a small temple would have evoked the grand avenues of sphinxes that traditionally led up to the entrance pylons of larger Egyptian sanctuaries. Here the sphinx is equipped with human arms and hands to enable him to make offerings to his god, the sun disk, Aten, who appears at the upper left. He wears the uraeus of kingship while behind him (to the left) are two cartouches containing his lengthy official name. The sun’s life-giving rays end in so many hands, some holding ankh-signs. Below are three offering stands. To the right, Akhenaten as sphinx raises one hand in adoration while in the other he holds a neb sign, a basket signifying lordship, holding Aten’s cartouches. These same cartouches appear a third time in the upper right where they are joined with the cartouches of Akhenaten and Queen Nefertiti, who is thus present in name if not in image. The rest of the inscription describes the “great, living Aten” as “dwelling in the Sunshade temple [called] Creator of the Horizon [which is] in Akhetaten.” The temple named here, yet to be located, must be the one for which this block was carved.

Akhenaten’s religious revolution was accompanied by a change in the way pharaoh was depicted, showing a marked departure from the idealized images favored by his predecessors. Even though the king’s face has been sadly hacked away, one can still discern his characteristic slanted eyes, long nose,hollow cheeks, drooping lower lip, and pendulous chin.

Provenance

Probably from el-Amarna. By 1964: with Ernst E. Kofler, Lucerne, Switzerland; October 4, 1964: purchased by the MFA from Ernst E. Kofler.
(Accession Date: October 14, 1964)

Credit Line

Egyptian Curator's Fund